Pass the Rationale, Please!

After the success of yesterday’s travel photo journal, I am reluctant to digress to a more serious topic. However, my writing needs to have a purpose to inform as well as entertain, so I will persist with what some might feel are uncomfortable topics.

Upon returning to school this fall, my two high schoolers were informed that there had been a grading policy change. The change was to standardize how courses at the high school were being graded.  The student body was told that all assessments, in all classes,  would fall into one of two categories. Despite the two categories being the familiar ones of formative and summative assessments, the change incurred was that ALL summative assessments were going to be worth 80% of their course grade and ALL formative assessments were going to be worth 20%. Wow! This was shocking!

Apparently, this policy was thrust upon not only our students, but also the high school teaching staff as well. And, the timing of informing the staff was questionable at best, being mere weeks before the school year began. All courses, all assessments, had to fit into one of these two percentages!

While I will agree that some standardization was necessary, as the year before, my one high school student had some formative work being counted for a measly 5% of his total grade in certain classes, and up to 3o or 40% in others, it made for some very disparate weighting of work. I am not guessing here. Due to other concerns, I saved some of the in progress digital grade book. Little did I know I would to be able to compare the end result of last year’s grading policy to this year.  Let’s just say that whether anyone else would be looking at the data resulting from this policy decision would take up a entirely separate post!

So, it is not the standardization that I take issue with specifically. There are two other issues. 1) How was the 80/20 split decided upon? Was this a reasearch based decision? Is this considered a best practice in grading? Who made the decision? Why was it made? What was considered?  And, 2) The policy change reeked of a top down approach, fully lacking any transparency.

My concern became, and still is, this: 80% is a huge number!  Was the student with test anxiety considered? Obviously, not! I have one of those! Smart, yes. But, he does not and never has, tested well – in part, due to performance anxiety. He is learning methods to cope with this, but really? 80%?  He, and others, can have a string of 100% formative assessments and still not be able to keep an A (which is 94.5% in our district), if an A is not obtained on the summative assessment.

So, the question becomes, what is fair? Was the grading policy fair last year when one class weighted summative and formative assessments with extremely wide variance? Or is this policy fair, with it being a very high 80% summative and 20% formative computation for the course grade?

Besides fairness, which admittedly could be widely debated, I have more of a problem with how this policy was instituted. Where is the transparency? A policy like this effects our students – all of them! Why were stakeholders not pre-emptively informed? We all know why, don’t we? Why was the policy supposedly thrust upon our staff who perhaps needed more time to consider how this structure could best fit their specific course? Why? Why?

What of those students taking AP classes? Yes. This policy meant those too. So, last year summative assessments might have been 40-60%. This year, 80%. Who got the better grades?

Am I the only person who thinks of these issues? Perhaps.

As a stakeholder, I question this policy. I absolutely question the way in which it was instituted.

Please! Pass the rationale!

9 thoughts

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